Investigations

When Eric Conn stepped into a Pizza Hut in La Ceiba, Honduras on Saturday, he likely had no idea that meal would be his last as a free man.

The FBI confirmed on Tuesday that the eastern Kentucky Social Security scam artist was taken into custody without incident on Saturday. That was exactly six months to the day after Conn cut off his ankle monitor and fled home detention, “violating the terms of his release, his plea agreement and the obligation to society that he be held accountable for his crimes,”  according to FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Amy Hess.

At the FBI’s satellite office in Lexington, Hess detailed the national and international effort to find and capture Conn. The feds worked with law enforcement agencies across Kentucky, in New Mexico where Conn was spotted in July and in both Mexico City and San Salvador. Agents interviewed dozens of people, seized Conn’s bank accounts and conducted physical surveillance.

Those efforts led them to the tourist town of La Ceiba, where Honduran law enforcement took Conn into custody.

When Conn disappeared in early June, he had been out on bond, awaiting sentencing, after pleading guilty to massive Social Security fraud. He worked with a judge and a psychologist to cheat the federal government out of $550 million in lifetime benefits.

“As promised, Mr Conn will now be held accountable for his actions, the people he deceived and the lives he shattered, including all the victims of his greed in eastern Kentucky,” Hess said.

Conn was a colorful character who styled himself as “Mr. Social Security” and touted his ability to get disability benefits for his clients. When his scam was revealed, hundreds of his former clients lost their benefits after redetermination hearings.

For many of Conn’s victims, his escape was the final twist of the knife. He was sentenced in absentia to 12 years in federal prison — the maximum sentence — and ordered to pay $170 million in restitution.

Conn now faces additional charges for fleeing. The FBI said he will be in court to face those charges after he is returned from Honduras.

Eleanor Klibanoff covered Rust Belt decline and revival in Pennsylvania. She also worked for NPR and attended the George Washington University.